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Question: We are using MCP Math A with our first grader. He is having trouble with adding and subtracting sums over 10 because he is used to using his fingers to count. Example: for a problem like 15-7 he must use the abacus, and count down with the beads. Is this okay for now, or does he need to commit the answers to memory? Thanks.

Dear CHC Mom,

Congratulations on choosing MCP Math for your math curricula.  It's an outstanding math series, especially for the younger grades.  Several suggestions come to mind for help in memorizing number facts.

Begin by exploring the Common Errors, Enrichment, and Mental Math sections of your teacher's manual.  Focus on the lessons that teach addition and subtraction facts, especially through twenty.  The Common Errors section will give you intervention tips on how to fix typical errors children make at your son's age.  You will be happily surprised by the publisher's knowledge of familiar mistakes that children make.  The enrichment section will give you ideas to reinforce the skill your child is learning.  For example, if you are teaching your child to count pennies and nickles the enrichment section will suggest that you provide a small item priced at 14 cents; and it will instruct him  to draw the coins he needs.  Then, the lesson section will instruct your learner to count the coins or add them up.  Finally, the Mental Math section will reinforce addition and subtraction problems daily.  You may want to present your son with three out of five mental math problems so he doesn't grow frustrated.

An abacus is terrific.  Several math programs encourage the use of beads or counters.  Try pennies, small plastic counters, buttons, or better yet for subtraction, a tiny treat to take away or eat.  Have your son put each number of items in a separate pile and then count them together.  Use flash cards daily.  Try them at meal time or make it a game.  Each time your first grader gets a flash card answer correct, mark a drawn out baseball diamond.  If he answers a difficult problem you can mark him as "running"  to second base, or perhaps he might hit a home run with an answer he has struggled with in the past.  Have your first grader start at the bottom of your stairs. Each time he gets an answer correct he can move to the next step.  Each missed answer means he takes a step down.  How long will it take him to reach the top?  Do you have a white board?  Allow him to answer some workbook math facts with a dry erase marker so he doesn't grow bored.  Also, come up with some fun stories using people you know:  Mom had sixteen oranges and ate three of them.  How many did she have left to share with her son?

How about number families?  When my children were in first grade we presented the answer in number families as Mom or Dad.  Mom or Dad had children who were listed under them and they made up a number family.  So, the number six might be Dad.  He has children named 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  0 and 6 hang out together (0 + 6, 6 + 0, and 6 - 0). 1 and 5 play together, 2 and 4 are especially close, and 3 and 3 are identical twins!  Then, we would discuss how each pair added up to 6.  6 worked with each "child" to subtract into another child (6 - 4 = 2, 6 - 2 = 4).  Family fact flash cards can be sorted into families, as well.  There are also classic games like adding/subtracting Bingo, and Cookie Math that you can buy at learning stores, or if you are feeling especially creative make up your own.

How about those fingers and memorization? Most teachers who specialize in math tell us that whatever it takes to memorize facts, do it. So, your little guy runs out fingers and you move to the abacus?  Go for it.  As long as he understands the concepts of how addition and subtraction work he is on the right track.  Remember that his answers should make sense.  Some children still come up with a larger number than the first number in subtraction: 9 - 6 = 15, and then we know they aren't understanding the concept of subtraction.

A final thought about addition and subtraction.  It has been said that solving addition and subtraction facts quickly, at this early age is not nearly as important as mastering the answers.  Work on memorizing before you require speed.

It sounds as if you are doing a wonderful job with your son.  Thank you for your great question.  Prayers for all of your academics.

Blessings to you and yours,

Julia Johnson





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